On Thursday, January 16, the La Canada Unified School District held a workshop for parents about approaching children regarding race and diversity. The workshop was held in LCHS’s new cafeteria and led by Mrs. Halle-Eliot, a consultant hired by the district, who presented on different aspects of racism and inclusion in order to help parents better understand how to educate their children.
The workshop began with a small warm-up activity, where everyone drew candy from a bag and answered questions based on what they got. In groups of three to five, the adults exchanged small talk with the people around them. Everybody had been given name tags with their names and preferred pronouns, making it a little easier to open up and relax, and I even found myself bantering with a group of parents.
After introductions, the event quickly transitioned to the main topic of the night — race. Mrs. Halle-Eliot posed a question: “What are your hopes and fears about talking to your children about race?” As I listened to a couple parents interacting and sharing, I could feel the sincerity in their responses: making sure their children were aware about what others were experiencing, being honest yet appropriate, but not increasing hypersensitivity or saying the wrong thing.
Mrs. Halle-Eliot began her presentation with a brief explanation about the social construct of race. She explained that race itself was a “child of racism,” first used to justify the mistreatment of different groups of people. She stated that according to the Human Genome Project, all humans are 99.9% alike in genetic makeup, and race was just a way people used to group together people with similar physical traits.
She then discussed a few terms related to race, like “systematic racism,” “white privilege,” “internalized racism,” “microaggressions,” and the “Model Minority myth.” As she elaborated on each term, she asked the question, “What is your earliest memory of race?” Though the discussion had shifted to a more personal depth, everyone seemed open to talk, and it was interesting to hear about their experiences and the differing severities. Interestingly, not a single person mentioned a positive experience with race, and that seemed to confirm the idea that race was a social construct existing solely to divide and exclude other people. As one adult put it, their experiences were “a bucket of cold water,” and many nodded in affirmation.
Throughout her presentation, Mrs. Halle-Eliot kept the audience engaged by continuously asking questions, encouraging people to talk, and showing interesting videos related to psychological studies about race or surveys of people of color.
One video from “The New York Times” depicted a group of Asian citizens sharing their experiences with race and their childhood, while another study from “CNN” revealed common patterns among black and white children when given a photograph and being asked to interpret it.
Mrs. Halle-Eliot then went on to explain the “other-race” effect where young children, who are supposedly unprejudiced, naive, and more perceptive to similarities, actually show indications that they are observant of a person’s race and even have a preference for their own. However, she made sure to distinguish between simply observing a difference and being racist — “Children are not born racist, they are taught to be racist,” she declared.
Mrs. Halle-Eliot emphasized the need to expose children to race from a young age. She stated that according to several studies, children are less biased and more prepared when their parents talk to them about race earlier in their lives, whether it be by normalizing differences, providing counter-narratives to racist ideologies, tailoring the message to the child’s identity, or increasing their media literacy.
To conclude the workshop, Mrs. Halle-Eliot stressed the importance of the parents continuing to strive for a better understanding of themselves. She recommended an Implicit Association Test by Harvard University which reveals the test-taker’s biases, and encouraged the parents to actively join clubs, events, and other workshops. Many parents took notes as she elaborated on her suggestions, and the vast majority seemed intrigued by and receptive to the information.
Although the workshop had been meant for parents, I think it was still relevant and beneficial for me as a student. Many of the topics she covered, like the stereotypes of Asian groups or the idea of America as the “land of opportunity,” made me reflect on my own life. I was also pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the parents were — I attended the workshop as a student reporter, but many of the parents included me in their groups without disregarding me based on my age. Overall, the workshop was an eye-opening experience, and it was encouraging to see the members of our community taking a step towards more inclusivity and empathy.